So here are my two lists of 11 crucial checks. The first is a list to check before leaving for an outdoor climb and the second is a list to check right before getting on that wall. I hope you find them as helpful as I have!
Before Leaving the House
Make sure to run your hand through the entirety of the rope. All 200 feet of it. You should be checking for fraying, dings, or any other types of weak spots. If you find any you should seriously consider not using the rope and investing in a new one. See our guide for some recommendations!
2. Tarps or Blankets for Ropes
Not only does all your rope need to be hand-checked, but you also need to make sure to pack something for your rope to sit on while you’re setting up or not using it. This can be anything from a tarp to a furniture blanket; just as long as it is designated for this job and not keeping someone warm or dry.
3. Shoes, Harness, and Chalk Bag
These are all necessary to actually climb, so checking them all together and putting them all together will hopefully decrease the odds of them getting left behind.
Make sure your shoes are ready to go, somewhat clean, and next to the door!
Make sure that the harness isn’t showing too much wear or tear, especially around the section where you’ll be tied into or that the Belay device will be latched on.
Check the amount of chalk in the bag. I like to fill up the bag to 3/4s full and then bring almost an entire bag with me just in case something happens. Since I don’t get to go outdoor climbing very often, I will often splurge and treat myself to some pricier chalk, like Friction Labs Secret Stuff. Our Buying Guide can help you choose just the right shoes, harness and chalk bag to get you going.
4. Carabiners and Belay Devices
This is another one of those “no duh” groups that easily gets forgotten about, so make sure you check that they are working and locking correctly before loading them with your shoes, harness, and chalk bag. See our best recommendations on our Buying Guide page.
While the weatherman is hardly ever right, it is still wise to check the expected temperatures for the area in which you’ll be climbing. If you are going to be in a National or State Park, these usually also have temperature guides on their websites and averages from past years so you can really get a feel for what to expect. It is unsafe to climb during all extreme weather. You might be able to climb in a light rain or snow, just realize that more moisture makes the rock face much more slippery.
6. Directions and Route Planning
Since most good climbing spots are WAY out in the middle of nowhere, it is wise to have some kind of physical copy of directions to your desired climbing area.
Once you get to the area where your climb is located, make sure you have as specific directions as you can get to lead you to the climbing area. Climbers are notorious for giving oddly specific, yet vague directions to get to a climb, with phrases like “heart-shaped rock” or “weird tree” aplenty. This can make finding the route funny if it doesn’t take you long to find it, but can quickly descend into chaos after 20-30 minutes of fruitless searching.
Due to the possibility of not finding a climb or the opposite, where you find the climb and a bunch of people already climbing, I like to pick out at least 3 other climbs, if not 5 (this all depends on where you are climbing). This way if one spot is taken or being elusive, my trip isn’t ruined, and instead we get to start on another adventure!
7. Bring Friends!
Outdoor rock climbing is a great way to invite new and old friends to come together for an adventure! It also makes it much safer for you. No one should go climbing alone; there is no good scenario for the lone climber! Besides, this is a great time to encourage friends to bring their friends. That way you get to meet new people and get to know your friends better. I love how people get to know each other during the course of a rock climbing trip. There is a lot of trust that needs to be given, which can lead to long-lasting friendships forming and memories that will last a long time.
8. Communication is Key
Once you get your core group of adventure/climbing buddies together, it is best to let others know where you are going, how long you plan to be there, and when they should call the authorities if you haven’t returned. Climbing spots are notorious for having horrible cell phone coverage, which can be a blessing in disguise for some whose phones never stop ringing! It is less of a gift in an emergency. I usually tell my parents when we are going, what we are doing, and a 12-hour gap before starting the search parties. While this might seem extreme, think about how long you’d last bleeding or broken. In an emergency, that 12 hours will look and feel too long.
Again, since climbing spots are often in the middle of nowhere, make sure you have enough to gasoline to get you there and back, plus an extra 50 miles just in case.
I also like to bring a lot to eat! I am a 6’6″ guy so I eat a lot, especially when working out, but since I have a sensitive stomach I have to think through what I am going to eat and how I am going to feel after different types of activities. Then I calculate how far I’ll need to haul my food, if I’m going to need to plan on sharing (which I always end up needing to do), and what the weather is going to be like. There is nothing better than some warm bread and stew after a cold day of climbing! Or a cold Coke after a hot day of climbing.
10. Creature Comforts
Blankets, socks, an extra jacket, beanies, and layers are all great things to think about bringing. This is also the time where I like to plan what I am going to wear. Nothing sucks more than realizing the day of your climb that all your gear is dirty. Well actually, there is something that sucks more: the chaffing that can occur with the wrong type of clothing.
As a guy I like to bring durable, yet flexible pants with a moisture-wicking t-shirt or long sleeve depending on the weather. My favorite climbing pants are a pair of old jeans that are 10% elastic. I bought them from H&M years ago. They have a couple of holes, but they are perfect for climbing because they can withstand the scraping of rocks, yet still are flexible enough to allow me major leg movements.
Because I would have no idea from a girl’s perspective, I asked a couple of them (my sister and my girlfriend) what they like to wear climbing. For your lower half, they said it comes down to what you want more, flexibility (i.e. yoga pants) or durability (i.e. jeans or hiking pants). They agreed with me that if you have an old pair of flexible jeans that’s the best way to go, and noted that if you choose to wear yoga pants, just make sure you bring an extra pair; they can get holes in them easily and you might not want to be walking around with a giant hole somewhere on your lower half. For the upper half, they said whatever you wear normally to work out will be fine, just make sure you have a lot of arm mobility in whatever you choose and that it is easy to layer over.
11. First Aid Kits and Emergency Preparation
You can buy a great one on Amazon, like this one, or put together your own. Make sure you have: climbing tape, antiseptic, band-aids, a splint, some Ace-bandage, and liquid bandage. If you’re extreme you might also want to bring a tourniquet. While you are figuring this out and maybe putting together your own first-aid kit, this is a great time to figure out where the nearest hospital is to your climbing destination, and how best to contact them in case of an emergency. No one actually wants to be whoever Bradley Cooper played in 127 Hours. All in all, be prepared for any emergency that might happen, while I wasn’t a Boy Scout, it never hurts to think like one!
Now that we have covered what to check before leaving, let’s move onto what you want to check before you start climbing.
Right Before Climbing
This is my least favorite part of outdoor climbing because it is the most crucial aspect. If this is not set-up correctly, then people can get seriously injured, so I usually let others be in charge of this. But since I am usually the largest person in the group I am tasked with making sure that it’ll hold sufficient weight, so that’s fun (NOT!)
2. Landing Pads
If you are bouldering, you are going to want to make sure your landing pads are all laid out and that you, as the climber, have talked out your route with those who will be spotting you or moving the pads as you climb. This way those around you will have an idea of where you will be going and can plan their movement accordingly. Communication is key when climbing, and especially when bouldering.
First, check to make sure your harness is securely attached to your waist and thighs. It might be best to have a friend pull the waist strap for you. Whenever I have friends do this to me I can’t help but think of and feel like, those scenes in movies when a woman is forced into a whalebone corset and they really have to suck it in. So take a deep breath and pull!
With your carabiner, you want to make sure that the lock has been twisted all the way over the latch, and then make sure that when you press down on the latch it cannot move.
Since your carabiner is connected correctly, the next step is to make sure that your rope is in your belay device correctly (if you are the belayer) and that it is safely and securely connected to your harness, via the carabiner. After each climb it is wise to make sure that small bits of sand or debris haven’t snuck into your device, it is unlikely but it can’t hurt to check.
As the climber, you want to make sure the rope that is secured to your harness is made up of 5 pairs of parallel lines, that you have a fist’s width between your harness and the knot, and then two fists length of rope at the end of the knot.
Make sure your shoes are tied and that the laces are tucked into your shoe. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a climb and having to stop to tie a shoe or losing a shoe altogether.
Whether you are the climber or belayer, it is wise to wear and helmet. The climber, so that if you slip and swing into the wall you are protected, and the belayer, so that if loose rock is falling down, you are well-protected.
8. Clear your body
I like to take everything out of my pockets before climbing and put them out of harm’s way on a nearby rock or somewhere off the ground. This typically includes my cell phone, unless I am doing the climb specifically for the “‘gram”!
I also like to tuck my shirt into the harness as much as I can while still having good arm mobility.
9. Clear your partner
After you check yourself for everything above, make sure you check your partner. Tug on their ropes, harness, belay devices, carabiners, and helmets. Make sure everything is as secure as if it were your own body. This is when I usually like to talk about the climb, what I am seeing in terms of routes, the crux of the climb, and how much slack I am going to want with this climb.
10. Clear your mind
a. Before stepping all the way up to the wall I like to clear my mind and say a quick prayer. I try to envision the climb, enjoy the peace and quiet that nature provides, and deeply breath in the fresh air around me. This is how I get ‘hyped.’ Everyone has their own way, the most important aspect is putting away everything that is happening outside that moment and focusing on the climb. This is a necessary step for both the climber and the belayer.
11. Trust Fall
While this is not technically before the climb, on a new route, I like to do a trust fall, about two feet off the ground. This is to make sure that everything is working properly and that the checks are proved correct. After this I will start over on the ground, ready for the real climb.
After all of these checks, all you should need to do is say “Climber Ready,” and wait for the “Climb On!”
Are there any checks that you like to do that I didn’t mention? Add them in the comments below so I, and others, can add them to our checklists!